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Published on: May 7, 2018
by Women’s Brain Health Initiative:
Have you ever heard a dentist say, “only brush the teeth that you want to keep”? Well, you only have one brain, so the choice is clear – you are best to treat it with all the care you can, if you want to keep it. One of the biggest contributors impacting brain health is stress. It is therefore critical to not only understand the signs of stress, but also to engage in those practices in your day-to-day life that help minimize the risks that stress can have on the health of the brain.
There are essentially two main types of stress that we experience, each with its own characteristics, symptoms, duration, and treatment approaches. Acute stress, which is defined by short periods of stressful stimuli exposure, is beneficial for you. The hormones that induce “stress” in the brain are active during the moment of the stimuli, but do not stay active in the cortex once the stimuli have passed. Chronic stress, defined by the continuing release of cortisol-related hormones in the brain, can cause long-term disadvantages, such as changing the ratio of white matter to gray matter in the brain, developing anxiety or symptoms similar to post-traumatic syndrome disorder, and damaging your brain cells.
Not surprisingly, then, ongoing struggles with chronic stress increases the likelihood for nerve damage and can have significant long-term implications, contributing to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
There are countless enjoyable and easy activities that can help improve your brain health, examples of which are set out to the right. It is important to find activities that challenge you, promote concentration, and push you to think creatively and to make quick decisions. For example, try reading a new book not only for joy and pleasure, but also to increase your knowledge of a certain subject matter and to stimulate your imagination. Additionally, when it comes to brain health exercises, consistency is key. In the book, “The Memory Prescription,” Dr. Gary Small reports that “doing crossword puzzles four days each week translated into a 47 percent lower risk of dementia compared with once-a-week puzzle solvers. For each day of the week that people exercised their minds, the researchers found nearly a 10 percent reduction in the risk for dementia.”
It is also worth considering joining a group for any stress-reducing activities. Not only can that make the activity more enjoyable, but it can also help to reduce feelings of social isolation and depression when working independently on your health. This can range from playing regular games of cards or backgammon with a friend to joining a local bridge group, a book club, or having game nights with your friends at home or at the local community center. Sewing and knitting circles even vary in sizes, as do exercise classes.
Participation in even the simplest stimulation activities can be quite beneficial for your health and should not be underestimated. In fact, Harvard Medical School reports in its article, “12 Ways to Keep Your Brain Young” (January 16, 2018), that through research with both mice and human subjects, “scientists have found that brainy activities stimulate new connections between nerve cells and may even help the brain generate new cells, developing neurological ‘plasticity’ and building up a functional reserve that provides a hedge against future cell loss.”
Notably, dancing is one of the most effective stress-relieving activities, because it uses a variety of different brain functions, encouraging sensory and motion stimulation all at the same time. For example, dancing involves music, emotions, thinking, kinesthetic, and physical touching (if dancing with a partner), especially ballroom dancing. In fact, a study conducted by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that taking part in ballroom dancing reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 76% (followed by crossword puzzles at 47%).
When choosing an activity to improve your cognitive health, always remember to have fun with it. As the popular inspirational phrase goes, “dance like there is no one watching” – and know that you are not only enjoying yourself, but you are also actively improving your brain health at the same time!
To help encourage better brain health, and support your daily and weekly efforts, enjoy the regular Instagram reminders posted by Women’s Brain Health Initiative (@womensbrains).
Physical activities that are great stress relievers:
Activities that encourage you to think creatively, use deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills, and provide mental stimulation:
Activities that can help improve your memory:
Source: MIND OVER MATTER V6
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